U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and U.S. Representatives Jim Langevin (D-RI) and David Cicilline (D-RI) today joined with Governor Lincoln D. Chafee in announcing $1.6 million in federal aid to help the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) cover costs of rebuilding and strengthening infrastructure damaged by Superstorm Sandy. RIPTA will use $1,602,000 in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) funding to improve passenger protection and reduce flooding at the Newport Gateway Center, one of RIPTA's major transit hubs. The facility's tent-like sails, which were designed to protect riders from sun and rain, were severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
RIPTA is partnering on this project with the City of Newport and the facility's long-term tenant, Discover Newport. The tourism agency has already contributed conceptual drawings to the project at their own cost, in an attempt to facilitate design changes for a hurricane and flood resistant construction. RIPTA, Discover Newport, and the City of Newport will work with local partners to form a design review committee that will be used to provide feedback during the design process while keeping the community's goals in mind.
The project has two components. First, funds will be used to replace the current passenger protection with pavilions that can withstand hurricane force winds. The project also includes the cost of replacing concrete passenger waiting areas with permeable pavers and landscaping, reducing the impermeable surface by 50%; this will reduce storm water runoff volumes and also improve water quality. As demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy, restoring sewer and water can be the most costly and time-consuming part of getting back to business after a storm. The City of Newport has committed to provide the 10% match, or $178,000, for the entire project.
"I am pleased to have helped make these resiliency funds available and applaud RIPTA, the City of Newport, and Discover Newport for collaborating on this project. This federal funding will help RIPTA rebuild smarter and stronger and should make the Newport Gateway Center more resilient the next time a big storm or extreme weather hits," said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, who supported the establishment of a $3 billion competitive grant fund through the FTA's Hurricane Sandy Resilience Program for public transportation resiliency projects in regions affected by Superstorm Sandy.
"The Newport Gateway Center is one of the first things visitors see when they arrive in our beautiful coastal city, and it's an important transport hub for many travelers," said Senator Whitehouse. "This funding will help restore the center, make it more resilient against future storms, and help ensure that the tourists who contribute to our coastal economy and residents alike have access to safe and reliable transportation. I congratulate RIPTA, Discover Newport, and the City of Newport on receiving this federal aid."
"It has been well over a year since Superstorm Sandy ravaged our coastline, and yet we continue to feel the impacts of the storm," said Congressman Langevin. "I am pleased that the $1.6 million in Federal Transit Administration funds will go toward mitigating those impacts. Public transportation is not only an important component of tourism but also Rhode Islanders' commute to and from work, so this investment will pay for itself many times over."
"These federal funds will help RIPTA, the City of Newport, and Discover Newport advance efforts to repair and upgrade the Newport Gateway Center, which was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy," said Congressman Cicilline. "I am delighted that this resiliency grant will also help strengthen Newport's tourism industry and local economy by making the area's attractions, events, and historical sites more accessible for both residents and visitors."
"On behalf of our state, I thank our congressional delegation for their efforts to bring these federal funds to Rhode Island so that RIPTA may continue to rebuild infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Sandy," Governor Lincoln D. Chafee said. "I am confident that the newly designed Newport Gateway Center will better serve Rhode Island's daily commuters as well as the many tourists who utilize public transportation while visiting our beautiful state."
"RIPTA is very grateful to have received this funding," said the Chairman of RIPTA's Board of Directors, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. "The new passenger pavilions will further our ongoing efforts to improve customer services while reducing storm water runoff and flooding concerns at the Gateway Center. The new design and materials, which will withstand hurricane-force winds, will also ensure the safety and comfort of our passengers and others who use the facility. RIPTA's board and staff look forward to working with Discover Newport, the City of Newport and other partners to ensure that the new design is welcoming, attractive, and in keeping with the area's culture and history."
"For more than 25 years, the Newport Gateway Center has welcomed and accommodated the transportation needs of an estimated 15 million travelers," said Evan Smith, President and CEO of Discover Newport. "We have long been grateful for the strong partnership with RIPTA and the City of Newport--a successful collaboration that has greatly benefitted both local commuters and visitors from all over the world."
He continued, "The previous tenting shelter served the center well until damage sustained by Hurricane Sandy. We are delighted RIPTA has secured this federal grant and look forward to a new solid roofing plan that will be both functional and aesthetically pleasing to the residents of Newport and all our transportation users."
Hurricane Sandy Resiliency
Hurricane Sandy was the costliest hurricane in American history after Hurricane Katrina, and was particularly hard-hitting on transit agencies. At the behest of Congress, federal funds were made available to offset the cost of damage caused by the storm, as well as to help protect against future damage.
Rather than simply replace the damaged passenger waiting area with what had been there before, the Federal Transit Administration encouraged RIPTA to find a better long-term solution. RIPTA partnered with the City of Newport and Discover Newport to develop a project that will help mitigate against damage from future storms.
Newport Gateway Center
The Newport Gateway Center is an intermodal facility that houses the Newport Visitor's Center, customer parking, bus berths, bicycle facilities, and taxi stands. The bus berths are used by RIPTA, intercity carriers such as Peter Pan, tourist trolleys, and cruise ship shuttles connecting cruise passengers to the Visitor's Center. From Newport Gateway, passengers are distributed to area attractions such as the Newport mansions, beaches, wharfs, historic Belleview Avenue, Cliff Walk, and the Tennis Hall of Fame. Passengers can also transfer here to RIPTA fixed-route services that connect around the state, such as Amtrak's Kingston Station, the University of Rhode Island, or further north to Providence. The Visitor's Center includes a ticketing counter, bathrooms, offices, and extensive tourist information and interactive exhibits. It is maintained by the long-term tenant, Discover Newport, the area's official destination marketing organization.
Historically, Newport Gateway was the location of the train depot, and it is located adjacent to the community's rail line (currently only operating for local tourism). It is within walking distance of Newport harbor's many sailing vessels.